There is more to the digestive system than just digesting food
Recent research has shown that there is more to the digestive system than just digesting food. In fact, the gut with its enteric nervous system (ENS) – a complex network of neurons, neurotransmitters, and other cells – is often referred to as the “brain in the gut” or the “second brain”
In this blog, we will explore the fascinating concept of the gut as the second brain, its functions, the impacts of dysregulation, and what you can do about it from a nutritional perspective.
How does the gut communicate with the brain?
The gut and the brain are connected by a bidirectional communication system known as the gut-brain axis. This communication occurs through several pathways, including the vagus nerve, hormones, and neurotransmitters, like serotonin, which is produced in the gut and plays a role in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep.
The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and it connects the gut to the brain. It is responsible for transmitting signals from the gut to the brain, and vice versa.
Functions of the gut-brain axis and the implications of disruption
The gut-brain axis plays an important role in regulating many aspects of our health, including our digestion, metabolism, immune system, and mood.
Digestion and metabolism: The ENS controls the movement of food through the gut, and it also regulates the secretion of digestive enzymes and hormones that help to break down food and absorb nutrients. Disruptions to the gut-brain axis have been linked to a range of health problems, including gastrointestinal disorders,
Immune system: The gut is home to a large number of immune cells, which help to protect us from harmful pathogens. The gut-brain axis plays an important role in regulating the immune system, and it is thought that disruptions to this axis may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases.
Mood: The gut-brain axis is also thought to play a role in regulating our mood and disruptions to it have been linked to many mental health disorders including depression and anxiety.
Bright nutrition regulates your gut-brain axis.
To maintain a healthy gut, it’s important to consume a diet rich in fibre, fruits, and vegetables. These foods contain prebiotics, which are essentially food for the good bacteria in our gut. Additionally, consuming probiotics in the form of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi can help increase the number of good bacteria in our gut.
One of the factors that can affect the health of our gut is the presence of “good” bacteria or probiotics, beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of the gut microbiome. These bacteria live in our gut and help us digest food, produce essential vitamins, and keep harmful bacteria at bay. However, a diet high in processed foods, antibiotics, and stress can disrupt the balance of these bacteria, leading to various digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation.
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. They can also be found in supplement form, and it is important that, as with all supplements, you take those tailored to your individual health picture. Your Senior Clinician will advise.
Fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help improve digestion and any associated symptoms of dysregulation. Fibre can also help feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut, improving the balance of the gut microbiome.
Dietary changes such as avoiding trigger foods such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods, and adopting a low FODMAP diet can help modulate the gut and have a positive impact across your whole system. We always recommend talking to one of our trained Nutritional Therapists who can work with you on a bespoke plan.
Herbal teas and essential oils
Herbal remedies such as peppermint oil, ginger, and chamomile can help alleviate gut symptoms. Peppermint oil can help reduce bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea, while ginger can help reduce nausea and inflammation. Chamomile can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Consider taking these herbs as relaxing teas or using essential oils.
Stress and Sleep
Another factor that can affect the health of our gut is our stress levels. When we’re stressed, our body produces cortisol, a hormone that can affect the balance of bacteria in our gut. Additionally, chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the gut, which can cause a host of digestive issues. To reduce stress, it’s important to incorporate relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises into our daily routine.
Finally, getting enough sleep is also crucial for gut health. Lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate our appetite, digestion, and metabolism, leading to overeating and weight gain. Additionally, sleep deprivation can also affect the balance of bacteria in our gut, leading to digestive issues.
The health of our gut is crucial for our overall well-being. By consuming a diet rich in fibre and probiotics, reducing stress levels, and getting enough sleep, we can maintain a healthy and bright gut and consequently a healthy and bright body and mind.
What is making your second brain tick?
It is great to have a range of suggestions to feed your “second brain” but even better is an understanding of how it is functioning underneath. We are the only UK Clinic to offer The Heidelberg Test that determines stomach acid imbalances such as Hypochlorhydria (low acid), Hyperchlorhydria (high acid) and Achlorhydria (absence of acid)
Acid imbalance should be treated as an early palpable warning sign that your digestion and gut health are under threat and needs to be addressed immediately. This test provides your Clinician with the detailed information to base a healing protocol upon.
How Optimal Health Can Help
We recommend starting with The Heidelberg Test. Exclusive to the Optimal Health Group in the UK, this is the Gold Standard Medical Test for the assessment of stomach acid and gut function. It is a non-invasive, in-clinic procedure administered by a trained clinician.